Lockup nation: The problem with prisons in America

No Country imprisons a larger share of its people than America. Its incarceration rate—693 of every 100,000—is nearly five times Britain’s, six times Canada’s and 15 times Japan’s. And that rate masks huge variations: Washington, DC, Louisiana and Georgia each lock up more than one in every 100 residents. Why?


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It’s time to abolish the coroner

Orange County’s Informant Scandal Yields Evidence of Forensic Science Deception in Murder Trials

Chicago approves paying $31M to 4 wrongfully convicted men

‘Tough on crime’ used to win votes. Now it’s all about criminal justice reform


This article looks at tough on crime smear campaigns and a new trend in gallop polls for criminal justice reform.  What is to be gained from a tough on crime campaign? Haggerty and Rizer argue nothing and politicians have little to lose when campaigning for the reduction of the incarcerated population.

A criminal outrage revealed by Netflix is undone by a federal court

Making of a Murderer’ inspires a bitterly contested decision

Steve Drizzen wrote in response to this article:

James Warren calls Brendan Dassey’s conviction a “criminal outrage.” I am glad to see that the Seventh Circuit decision compelled Jim to put pen to paper — he usually doesn’t weigh in on federal court criminal law decisions. But his wife, Cornelia Grumman, won a Pultizer prize at the Chicago Tribune, in part, for her editorials about the unique vulnerability of children to police pressure and the problem of false and coerced interrogations of juveniles. I disagree with Jim in one respect — I think Cornelia’s work demonstrated that there are no limits to what journalists can accomplish. Cornelia’s relentless work on the editorial pages of the Tribune (along with great investigative reporting by Steve Mills, Maurice Possley, and Ken Armstrong) not only helped lead to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois but also led Illinois to become the first state to enact laws requiring police to record interrogations (of adults and juveniles) and to require that children be represented by counsel during police interrogations. Hopefully, Jim’s piece will just be the first of many from commentators, both usual suspects and unusual suspects from all walks of life, in the days to come. There may be some new limits to journalism, and the editorial pages of newspapers don’t quite hold the sway they once did in this age of social media, but what we need now is a consistent drumbeat of commentators from all walks of life, calling for greater protections of children during interrogations — in schools and in the stationhouse — and in the courts. If watching Brendan’s interrogation made your “skin crawl”, if you believe that a profound “miscarriage of justice may have occurred” in Brendan’s case, follow Jim’s lead. Be part of that drumbeat.



Judge identifies 12 huge lies about justice in America

Matthew Speiser reviews Judge Alex Kozinski’s (one of America’s most prominent jurists,) new article attacking many assumptions about criminal justice in the US. The assumptions range from eyewitness identification and prosecutorial misconduct to forensic evidence. Read about the 12 assumptions here.

Conviction dismissed, Robeson County man freed from prison after more than 4 years

Sharp said, “Wrongful convictions, we don’t hear a lot about them. Being overturned. And when we do, they are often cases in which the defendant have been incarcerated for decades. Henry McCollum, Leon brown, 31 years. For Henry on death row before being exonerated. And in that case he was exonerated only through DNA evidence right. And so this was a case where there was no physical evidence against Timothy (Britt) to begin with. Which at the trial level that makes the case, defense case stronger. Right, there’s no physical evidence. But from a post conviction standpoint, it often makes it more difficult to prove someone is innocent, if you don’t have that physical evidence to exonerate down. And so I would you say that this is a case of hope. And I hope that it will give that to other people who are similarly situated. Other people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. Who thinks that there’s just not a chance for them. I think this is a story of hope for them.”

The Recidivists: New Report on Rates of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Interesting Harvard study on overzealous prosecutors….


This article is exhaustive of review of California, Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee state appellate court opinions addressing claims of prosecutorial misconduct between January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2015.

Elected prosecutors in New Orleans, Memphis, Orange County, and the City of Saint Louis engage in more misconduct than other offices throughout their states.

The misconduct by these prosecutors has had a direct and devastating effect on people’s lives. Read more about the study and the offending prosecutors here.

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Philly paying millions to resolve allegations of police misconduct

I-Team: ‘Recycled cops’ move from department to department despite discipline issues

How evidence once thought destroyed helped free a man after 39 years behind bars for murder he didn’t commit

Tunnel vision convicts and open-mindedness exonerates 39 years later…


After Coley’s case was reopened, new tests found that a key piece of evidence used to convict Coley did not carry any of his DNA.  The Ventura County prosecutor Schwartz recognized the role tunnel vision played as the original detectives decided Coley was their man and failed to investigate other possible suspects.


Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Coley on Wednesday, writing that the DNA evidence and a painstaking re-investigation of the case proved his innocence.

Read Coley’s story here

Forensic testing scandal in UK widens

Back in February 2017, I blogged about concerns surrounding the quality of forensic science services in the UK (Serious concerns about forensic Science standards in the UK). Perhaps predictably then, UK law enforcement and courts are now facing a scandal that on first appearances seemed to be limited in potential impact, but is now said to involve up to 10,000 criminal cases (Police review 10,000 cases in forensics data ‘manipulation’ inquiry). 


Since 2012 all UK forensic science providers are private, for-profit, companies – some are not even UK companies – (see LGC divests its forensics division to Eurofins).  In January 2017, after a ‘whistleblower’ contacted police, concerns were raised about the manipulation of toxicology test results from a private laboratory and a criminal investigation was launched. The company – Randox Testing Ltd – had previously bought another company – Trimega – where there had been serious errors and quality failings noted since 2010. The previous highly criticised company, had employees who then went to work for Randox, whereupon the same problems seem to have continued.

The previous company specialised in child protection and family court cases, where children may have been removed from parents based upon flawed drug or alcohol tests. They also undertook work for private companies and public sector bodies, undertaking work such as employers testing their employees for drugs etc. A government minister has conceded that it may never be possible to identify the true number of Trimega customers affected, due to poor record-keeping, and that its samples cannot be retested.

It was anticipated that the cases from Randox would be limited to traffic offences, as the laboratory specialises in alcohol and drug testing for police forces. However, while three-quarters of the cases are traffic offences (7500) – albeit some of the most serious including causing death by dangerous driving (150) – the other quarter involve serious violent (250 murders) and/or sexual offences (up to 1000, including rape) and some 500 relate to unexplained deaths. So far, none of the more serious cases appear to have been affected, but it is admitted that it may take up to 3 years to go through all the cases, due to a lack of forensic testing capacity in the UK.

A police spokesman this week stated that: “Understandably, confidence in the criminal justice system will be rocked, but I am confident that chief constables and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] in particular are doing everything they can to deal with this unforeseeable challenge, affecting both live and historic cases…. We have worked at pace to respond to this serious breach of standards and take action in cases where people’s lives could have been affected,… We are striving to complete all cases requiring retesting as quickly as possible so we will continue to explore ways of speeding up the processes.”

Meanwhile a senior MP has said: “It is clear the chaotic reorganisation of the forensics system, including the closure of the Forensic Science Service, has left providers who were simply not fit for purpose to fill the gap. This has had devastating consequences.” 

Two employees of Randox have been arrested with a further 5 interviewed under caution by police.  The UK Forensic Science Regulator, tasked with ensuring standards across the entire provision of forensic science in the UK has said all major forensic toxicology suppliers were asked to carry out a detailed audit to ensure the issue was not more widespread, but that investigations uncovered no data manipulation, adding: “I’m not going to speculate on any motives because obviously there is an ongoing criminal investigation, but we cannot just say it was a minor technical issue.”

Even if you were not concerned about individuals who may have perhaps received a drink-driving conviction that they did not deserve, albeit such a conviction can have serious consequences, the doubts over the testing has already led to up to 50 drug- and drink-driving cases being dropped because the prosecution can no longer be sure of their evidence. Many more may still have to be halted or re-testing ordered where possible. There are also serious cases involving deaths that have now been referred back the Court of Appeal.

One of the major difficulties is that in many of these cases, suspects will have been under pressure to plead guilty, particularly because there will have been no legal aid available for them to order their own re-testing of samples. One defence lawyer has said: “This is going to blow the whole thing wide open. With cuts to legal aid we don’t always have the resources to challenge scientific evidence. Sometimes you have to take the science at face value… There is a lot of pressure on defendants to plead guilty, the system is stacked against the defence… ” This is the situation in almost all but the most serious criminal cases across the country. With the legal aid system almost non-existent, and the criminal justice system grinding to a halt through severe under-funding and further budget cuts on the way, it may increasingly be the case that any prosecutions that involve forensic evidence will get ‘waived through’ as there is no funding (nor time) for defence testing or scrutiny. In such a situation, we are completely reliant upon the Forensic Regulator to ensure and enforce standards, and for forensic providers to never make mistakes… or act fraudulently. If history – and wrongful convictions – tell us anything, it is that 100% reliance upon ‘standards’ and the professionalism and infallibility of humans is foolhardy in the extreme. This scandal should remind us that we need more safeguards in criminal justice – not fewer.

Read more here:

Convictions in doubt as more than 10,000 cases could be affected by data manipulation at forensics lab

Drug-driving cases dropped over forensics


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The criminal justice system needs to start learning from its mistakes

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After momentous week, prosecutor Kim Foxx says ‘we have to right wrongs’

U.S. District Court Judge Praises New York Courts’ Efforts to Curb Prosecutorial Misconduct

By Innocence Staff


An op-ed in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan celebrated New York’s comprehensive new rule that makes New York the first in the nation to require all of its criminal trial judges to issue so-called “Brady orders” to all prosecutors in every case (named after the 1963 case of Brady v. Maryland).  As Judge Sullivan explains, the landmark administrative order is a critical step in ensuring that prosecutors across the state honor their legal and ethical obligations to turn over all evidence that is favorable to a defendant.

Judge Sullivan, who presided over the trial of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens—which was marred by prosecutorial misconduct—is one of the prominent judges that has long issued his own individual Brady orders. But soon, as of January 2018, under the new order, all criminal court judges in New York will be mandated to do so.

As Sullivan explains in his op-ed, the purpose of the judge-issued Brady orders is, ultimately, to educate prosecutors on their legal and ethical obligations, to prevent wrongful convictions throughout the state and to provide a mechanism for sanctioning the small minority of prosecutors who deliberately conceal favorable evidence.

Earlier this month, New York’s Chief Administrative Judge issued an order directing all courts to issue “Brady” orders in criminal cases. The Innocence Project lobbied in support of the order, because judicial oversight of discovery was key in holding former Texas prosecutor Ken Anderson in criminal contempt for the misconduct that resulted in Innocence Project client Michael Morton wrongly serving 25 years for the murder of his wife before he was cleared by DNA evidence.

Sullivan wrote the following:

It’s one thing for prosecutors to know they are supposed to follow the law. But it’s far more likely actually to happen when a judge’s order tells them exactly what is expected, and what the consequences are for noncompliance. A Brady order also ensures that prosecutors who commit intentional misconduct can be held accountable. Often it takes years for a wrongly convicted defendant to discover that exculpatory evidence was withheld. By that time, the statute of limitations for bringing disciplinary or criminal charges against the prosecutor may have already expired. If a Brady order is in place, however, the prosecutor can be held in contempt of court or subjected to other judicial sanctions.

Two Travesties of Justice and Not a Single Apology in Sight

Anyone interested in criminal justice knows that our system is broken. Two recent cases out of Louisiana highlight just how broken our system really is.


The first case is about a now-senior citizen named Wilbert Jones, who was released last week from prison after serving 45 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton (twice), Bush (twice), Obama (twice) came and went, while this innocent man languished in prison waiting for a miracle to occur.


Mr. Jones was a poor, black teenager in 1972 when he was arrested. He was convicted of abducting a white nurse from a hospital parking lot and raping her, and was sentenced to life without parole. The case against him was weak, resting solely on the nurse’s questionable identification of Mr. Jones made nearly three long months after the rape had occurred.


The prosecutor involved in the case appears to have withheld crucial evidence from the defense, including the identity of another man, accused of a rape in a difference case who better matched the nurse’s description of the suspect. This apparently was not uncommon: the prosecutor in Mr. Jones’ case had a reputation of routinely violating his constitutional obligations to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.


It took the Innocence Project New Orleans nearly 15 years to gain Mr. Jones’ freedom. And here’s the kicker. Even though the prosecution has said they will not seek to re-try Mr. Jones, they nonetheless requested that bail be set at $2,000. Even more outrageously, the judge granted the bail motion. Let me repeat: a judge set bail for a 65-year-old man who spent 45 years in prison for a crime he did not commit in a case where the prosecution is not planning to re-try him.



Keeping with the theme of outrageous, last week Kevin Smith was released from a New Orleans jail, after serving nearly eight years without ever having been convicted of a crime. In 2010, Mr. Smith was arrested for a non-violent drug offense and placed in the county jail, where he sat, and sat, and sat some more, awaiting his day in court. His case was delayed because of a hurricane, because of a competency hearing, because of motions and who-knows-what else as lawyers for both sides hemmed and hawed about moving forward with the case. In the meantime, Mr. Smith rejected a plea offer of 10 years, which would have ended his sentence in 2015, and finally filed his own motion to be released, arguing that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. After his lawyers joined his motion, a judge set Mr. Smith free. He earned the dubious honor of having spent the most time in pre-trial detention for a non-violent offense.


Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. It is rife with allegations of corruption and misconduct. It disparately impacts poor people of color. The system is simply not working, and it is time for places like Louisiana to do something about it.


Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are owed far more than an apology by Louisiana. In the meantime, a mea culpa by the State would be a good start.

This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post.


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Wrongfully Convicted Man Freed After 45 Years Doesn’t Hold a Grudge – He Just Wants Some Gumbo

Can you spot an unethical prosecutor?

Petition claims DNA proves innocence of Virginia man sentenced to 100 years for 1990 rape of 10-year-old girl

Battler for the wrongly convicted will join Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office

Blind Injustice Chapter 8 Solutions

After years of going head to head with Wayne County prosecutors and building a reputation for freeing the wrongfully convicted, criminal defense attorney Valerie Newman is joining the prosecutor’s office.  Newman was asked to help prosecutors get better at what they do and she hopes to prevent wrongful convictions before they happen.

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Evin King becomes the 2121 exoneration in America.

The success of conviction integrity units exonerating innocent inmates proves every county should have one.

Are prosecutors obligated to believe the evidence they present at trial?

By Radley Balko

“You might think that, from an ethical standpoint, prosecutors should believe that the evidence they put in front of juries is actually true and accurate. After all, they’re state employees, paid with public funds, and they’re entrusted with enormous power. At the very least, we should expect them not only to refrain from putting forth evidence they know to be false but also to exercise some due diligence to ensure that everything they tell jurors is true.

As it turns out, that just isn’t the case. 

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New Wrongful Convictions Series “Final Appeal” Premieres on Oxygen Sunday, January 7 at 7/6 central

NYC finalizes $40M settlement with ‘Central Park 5’

For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man. This blog post from 2015 is an important reminder of holding prosecutors accountable.

Is your memory good enough to convict? A suspect’s fate can depend on what an eyewitness remembers, even though we know memory is fallible

Chapter 5 Blind Memory

If a suspect’s fate can depend on what an eyewitness remembers, how do courts deal with the fallibility of memory?

The Innocence Project helps to exonerate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. They’ve reported that eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions.

Karen Newirth is a senior staff attorney at the Innocence Project, working in the strategic litigation unit on eyewitness identification. She says one of the most powerful parts of her job has been “hearing stories of wrongful convictions in the cases where witnesses talk about what it is like to realize that their memories were wrong and that through their testimony they put an innocent person in prison. The system doesn’t help them to sort through what might be a real memory and what might be contamination or an elaboration.”

“When we see eyewitnesses, victims and defendants in highly emotional situations, their memories are just so plastic,” said Julia Shaw, author of “The Memory Illusion” and a psychological scientist and memory expert who testifies in court. “So I wanted to understand how exactly that works.” Shaw set out to see if she could convince participants in a study to adopt the memory of a crime they hadn’t committed. “I’ve had conversations with neuroscientists who essentially argue that the distinction between imagination and memory is mostly meaningless,” she said. “It’s the same neurons doing the same tasks. So the only difference is maybe strength. And if you reinforce something often enough than memories and imagination just pretty much look identical.”

Read the full story here

To hear the results of Shaw’s study, listen to “Court of Memory.” https://embed.radiopublic.com/e?if=memory-motel-WwEYL8&ge=s1!8f0c7722d13ad723abab7a1cde4c5a46088835e8“>here

Quick Clicks

After half a century a state district court Judge Richard Anderson has overturned Wilbert Jones’ 1974 conviction in the abduction and rape of a Baton Rouge nurse, saying “highly favorable” evidence was withheld from the defense. Read the full story here.

An appellate attorney is out of a job after speaking publicly about a lack of funding in a death penalty case — comments that Weber County officials deemed “harmful to the county’s reputation.” Read the full story here.

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